Gender, sexual identities

Problem statement

Although important progress has been made, gender inequalities and discrimination based on sexual identity continue to represent unresolved issues in European educational systems. Male and female students across all levels and sectors of education continue to be segregated in terms of performance, choice of education fields and ascribed gender roles. Almost all LGBT individuals experience bullying and discrimination in education settings, however many implications remain unidentified and unresearched.

Implications for education

Research reports show persistent gender inequalities across the EU in terms of performance, study subject preferences and patterns of participation. In almost all European countries, boys are more likely to drop out of school and repeat grades. Girls outperform boys in reading, and boys outperform girls in mathematics. However, in terms of performance the disparities are more significant among boys, than among boys and girls [1]. Research also shows that not only gender, but also social class and socioeconomic status influence those disparities [1]. In terms of gender segregation in education fields, young men are predominant in vocational education compared to young women, especially in technical areas and manual work professions. Females more often tend to choose humanities, arts and care-taking professions [1] [2]. There are strong gender imbalances in the teaching profession, with men occupying most of the authority and power positions in education, while teaching as such is considered a predominantly female occupation [3]. For example, eight out of ten primary school teachers are women, while only half of the principals are female in the EU [4].

In recent years, there has been growing acceptance of diverse sexualities and in many domains there are attempts to recognise and value lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) lifestyles. Many EU countries now have extensive legislation to promote equal rights and protect LGBT individuals from discrimination and victimisation [5]. The school environment is an important social space where perceptions and attitudes are created and behaviours are learnt, adopted and consolidated. As such, it is a formative setting for acceptance of diverse sexual identities. In spite of that, bullying based on homophobic attitudes is still frequent in education settings in Europe. Across the EU school authorities do not take LGBT bullying seriously, and teachers lack sufficient tools or incentives to address the problem [6].

Teachers are also not sufficiently trained to deal with gender stereotypes and to encourage diversity [1]. The stereotypical attitudes of parents, peers and educators tend to reinforce discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. Students and teachers carry into school the cultural values that are dominant outside school premises, thereby replicating the gendered assumptions of society within education.


EU education policies are crucial in sensitising young people to gender equality, promoting acceptance of different sexual identities, and combating gender-stereotypes and sexual identities-based violence early on. Gender equality standards at the EU and Member State levels should be developed and promoted [1]. The attitudes of teachers and teacher educators are equally important in facilitating change. Comprehensive equality training should be an integral part of both initial and continuing teacher training [1]. Acceptance of gender equality and sexual identities needs to be a core element of school curricula and teachers need to be educated on how to teach gender issues and sexuality. Moreover, it is as important to challenge stereotypical gender attitudes and values outside of schools as within them. In this sense, equality training for parents and students in all levels of education as well as internal policies for gender equality in school environments are also absolutely necessary [2].

[1] Belghiti-Mahut, S.; Bergmann, N.; Gärtner, M.; Hearn, J.; Gullvåg Holter, Ø.; Hrženjak, M.; Puchert, R.; Scambor, C.; Scambor, E.; Schuck, H.; Seidler, V.; White, A.; Wojnicka, K., The role of men in gender equalityEuropean strategies & insights, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2012. PDF file

[2] Lynch, K.; Feeley, M.; ‘Gender and Education (and Employment)’, An independent report submitted to the European Commission by the Nesse network of experts, European Commission, 2009. PDF file

[3] Eurydice, Gender Differences in Educational Outcomes: Study on the Measures Taken and the Current Situation in Europe, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, Brussels, 2009. PDF file

[4] OECD, TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, OECD Publishing, 2014. Web Link

[5] Debricki, M., European Review of homophobia. Background secondary data analysis, NISO, 2009. PDF file

[6] FRA – European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, EU LGBT survey: Results at a Glance, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 2013. Web Link